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By Suneel Udpa, Saint Mary's College of California

Services provided by accountants are fast expanding beyond traditional accounting, auditing, and tax services to include new and challenging functions within organizations and within society. These functions include management consulting, strategic planning, litigation support, merger and acquisition consulting, special investigations, financial planning, and operations and general management. As this trend continues, an accountant is faced with an ever-increasing need for current information on companies as a means to obtain significant competitive advantage. Online databases provide a wealth of up-to-date information quickly and at a relatively low cost. Information available from online databases include financial reports on public and private companies, directory information, company news, credit reports, Federal and state filings, and analysts' reports.

The Online Search

It is useful to work out your search strategy before logging on and going online since many business databases have a high connect charge once the use is logged in. There are a multitude of choices and decisions to be made relating to the online vendor, the database producer, and the appropriate search words. The biggest challenge facing online researchers is not how to structure a search and choose the appropriate search words, but how to identify the best database in which to run that search.

There are many factors to consider when choosing an appropriate database. The first factor you must consider for a company search is to determine the market status of the company you are researching, i.e., whether the company is public (or "listed" or "quoted") or private ("unlisted" or "unquoted"). If you are uncertain, use a database that includes both public and private companies.

Next, determine the type of information you are looking for. Business databases can be (i) bibliographic (providing references), (ii) full-text, (iii) directory, or (iv) Numeric (containing tabular information). For example, if you are looking for factual information on companies, organizations, and products such as company addresses, phone numbers, financial, and marketing information, you will choose directory databases. Also, if there is a deadline for the information, you might choose full-text databases, which present the entire text of published articles, instead of bibliographic databases. In choosing a database, it is important to determine how current the information needs to be. If you need very current information, choose databases that are continuously updated. For example, newswire databases contain unedited full-text news releases from over 10,000 diverse news sources that are updated at 15-minute intervals or less throughout the day. When accessing business databases for financial information it is important to check the date of the financial data to determine how recent the information is. Latest earnings or sales figures, management changes, stock prices, etc., can be obtained through company news databases.

Finally, cost considerations can determine database selection. Cost varies across different online vendors providing similar databases and across different databases containing similar information. For example, the Disclosure database is available on Dialog, Lexis/Nexis, and Dow Jones News/Retrieval. Much of the company financials available on Disclosure is available on other databases such as NAARS, SEC Online, and Moody's Corporate Profiles. Databases providing company information of interest to an accounting professional can be characterized as those that specialize in--

* company directory and financial information, and

* company intelligence (including news).

There are several databases available to accountants looking for information on companies both public and private.

Public Companies

For public companies (i.e., those traded on an exchange), all of the data submitted to the SEC, such as annual reports, 10-Ks, 10-Qs, 20-Fs, and proxy statements are available and are repackaged in various different ways by different database producers. Material filed with the SEC is also available on the Internet from the SEC's home page. In addition to SEC filings, some databases, such as Media General Plus, Moody's Corporate Profiles, and Standard and Poor's Corporate Descriptions Plus News contain interim reports to shareholders, news releases, prospectuses, and reports filed with regulatory bodies. When you need the most complete financial data on a specific company, it will be necessary to gather data from several databases. Also, it is useful to compare financial information from multiple sources to verify accuracy. If your need is to identify companies meeting certain financial criteria specifically or in ranges such as companies with beta coefficients over one or companies with over $100 million capitalization in the steel industry, you should tap into databases with searchable numeric fields.

Private Companies

Finding data on companies that are not publicly traded can be difficult since they are not subject to the reporting requirements of the SEC. Another challenge in searching for information on private companies is that private companies do not have a ticker symbol. Since company names are not standardized, several variant spellings and names of the company may appear in a database.

If you are looking for financial statements for privately owned companies, D&B­Dun's Financial Records Plus is the database to tap into. It provides up to three years of comprehensive financial statements for over 650,000 private companies. For credit information on U.S. businesses, the dominant suppliers are Dun and Bradstreet and TRW. For directory information on U.S. private companies, several files are available: D&B­Dun's Electronic Business Directory, D&B­Dun's Market Identifiers, and American Business Directory. If you are searching for information on small private companies that are not listed in the directories mentioned above; nonprofit organizations; or companies and organizations that are dissolved, bankrupt, or merged, you should consider databases containing information from public records filed with state and county offices such as INCORP (containing corporate and limited partnership records) and LIENS (containing UCC filings). A summary of databases containing private company information is listed in Exhibit 2.

Company/Industry Intelligence

Accountants can vastly improve their capital budgeting and short-term managerial decisions, company financial statements and industry analysis, and content of their managerial reports if they have the information advantage. Online databases offer accountants and managers a valuable resource for specific company and industry intelligence and research. They provide financial and market research reports, coverage of the latest business developments, and performance snapshots of markets and industries. Some of the databases providing such information are described in Exhibit 3.

In addition, there are several databases that include information from industry and trade newsletters and journals. Two are described in Exhibit 3.

Finally, newspapers, news magazines, and newswire services offer a valuable source of information about developments and market and economic conditions affecting companies and industries. Of course, the advantage of news and newswire databases is the timeliness of the news content: most newspaper indices are updated daily, while many newswire indices are updated every 15 minutes. Also, many of these databases are full-text which can be searched either using the COMPANY field or using ticker symbols. All online vendors carry a comprehensive list of news and newswire databases.

Online searching provides a quick, cost-effective tool to access company information. It is difficult to be fully knowledgeable about all the different databases and online service providers available in the marketplace today. Online searchers should select two or three of the comprehensive business online service providers such as DIALOG [(800) 3-DIALOG], Dow Jones News/Retrieval [(800) 522-3567], or Mead Data Central, Lexis-Nexis [(800) 227-4908; also available through the AICPA]. These providers cover more than 90% of all company and business databases useful to accounting practitioners. Online searching is an invaluable resource for accounting professionals striving to meet the needs of their expanding profession. *


Paul D. Warner, PhD, CPA

Hofstra University

L. Murphy Smith, DBA, CPA

Texas A&M University



National Automated Accounting Research System (NAARS)

Coverage: Current plus five file years

Updates: Weekly

Data type: Complete Text, Numeric

Provider: Mead Data Central and AICPA

Available through: Mead Data Central (LEXIS) and AICPA

NAARS employs a full-text, interactive approach and includes the complete financial statement portion of annual reports for more than 4,000 per year of publicly traded companies plus accounting literature. This database indexes the footnotes to the reports and imposes structure on the information by using accounting terms to index information. Also, the database includes accounting literature.


Coverage: Current

Updates: Weekly

Data Type: Directory, Numeric

Provider: Disclosure, Incorporated (Bethesda, MD)

Available through: BRS, CompuServe, DIALOG, Dow Jones News/Retrieval, Mead Data Central

DISCLOSURE Database provides in-depth financial information on over 12,500 companies. The information is derived from reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by publicly owned companies. Extracts of 10-K and 10-0 financial reports are included, as well as 20-F financial reports and registration reports for new registrants.

SEC Online

Coverage: July 1987 to present

Updates: Weekly

Data type: Complete text

Provider: SEC Online, Inc. (Hauppauge, NY)

Available through: DIALOG, Mead Data Central (Lexis), InvestText/Plus, and WESTLAW

SEC Online is a full-text database of reports filed by public companies with the SEC. All companies on the New York and American Stock Exchanges are included, as well as over 2,000 NASDAQ National Market Share companies. SEC Online contains the actual, unedited text of these companies' 10-Ks, 10-Qs, 20-Fs, and annual reports and proxy statements, including amendments.

Standard & Poor's Corporate Descriptions plus News

Coverage: Current

Update: Twice monthly

Date Type: Directory, Numeric

Provider: Standard & Poor's Corporation (New York, NY)

Available through: DIALOG, Mead Data Central Standard & Poor's Corporate Descriptions plus News

Offers in-depth strategic and financial information on more than 11,000 publicly held corporations. Records include basic company profile information, recent financial news, capitalization data, a corporate background report, a list of subsidiaries, selected financial ratios, and detailed stock-and-bond data including bond ratings. The database also provides income account and balance sheet figures, both as reported and aggregate financial data for financial screening purposes.

Moody's Corporate Profiles

Coverage: Current

Updates: Weekly reloads

Data type: Directory, Numeric

Provider: Moody's Investor Service, Inc. (New York, NY)

Available through: DIALOG

Moody's Corporate Profiles provides company information with up to five years of financial statistics for more than 5,000 publicly held companies. For each company, it includes a business description summarizing the company's products and services, and for some companies, an analysis of the company's outlook.


Coverage: 20 year annuals; industrial quarterly 10 years;
nonindustrial quarterly 12 years

Updates: Weekly

Data Type: Numeric

Provider: Standard & Poor's Compustat Services, Inc.

Available through: ADP Network Services, CompuServe

CompuStat provides historical financial data on major U.S. and some Canadian companies for up to 20 years. In addition, there are three files: Business Information, price-dividend-earnings, and aggregate.



D&B-Dun's Financial Records Plus

Coverage: Current

Updates: Quarterly reloads

Data Type: Directory, Numeric

Provider: Dun & Bradstreet Information Services (Parsippany, NJ)

Available through: Dialog, Dow Jones News/retrieval

D&B-Dun's Financial Records Plus contains close to 2 million records containing company history and operation background, out of which over 650,000 have financial statements. One unique feature of this database that is useful to accountants interested in financial statements analysis is its comparison to industry data where the company's financial position can be compared to others in the same industry as determined by industry norm percentages.


Coverage: Current

Updates: Quarterly

Data Type: Directory

Provider: Mead Data Central

Available through: Mead Data Central (LEXIS)

This file contains records of active and inactive corporations, limited partnerships, associations, municipal authorities, other organizations and foundations registered to do business in states. Each record gives a limited amount of company information and indicates the documents on file with a particular state. The amount of information available on the database may vary from state to state.

TRW Business Profiles

Coverage: Current

Updates: Weekly

Data Type: Directory

Provider: TRW Business Credit Services, California

Available through: DIALOG, NewsNet

This database covers approximately 2,500,000 companies including 10,000 public company records and contains information on credit history, bankruptcy, tax and legal history, UCC filings, and banking relationships. The database covers both public and private U.S. companies, representing commercial and industrial establishments from all product areas.

Dun & Bradstreet Business Credit Services
Online Service

Coverage: Current

Updates: Weekly

Data Type: Directory

Provider: Dun & Bradstreet Information Services (Parsippany, NJ)

Available Through: DIALOG, NewsNet

This service provides three useful reports. The Business Information Report is the most widely accepted information tool for business background and risk assessment research. The Payment Analysis Report is a historical presentation of a U.S. company's payment habits as reported D&B. The Supplier Evaluation Report provides detailed financial and operational information on a U.S. supplier's business.




Coverage: 1982 to the present

Updates: Daily

Data Type: Complete text

Provider: Thomson Financial Networks (Boston MA)

Available through: DIALOG, Dow Jones News/Retrieval, NewsNet, Mead Data Central

Investext is the world's largest database of company, industry, topical, and geographic analysis. The Investext database is comprised of more than 400,000 full-text reports written by analysts at 180 prestigious investment banks and research firms worldwide. Coverage includes 14,000 companies worldwide and 53 industry groups. The reports contain financial data, analyses of companies' management, position in the industry, and outlook of the industry as a whole and are indexed by company, subject, industry, report type, product, and SIC code.


Coverage: 1972 to present

Updates: Daily

Data Type: Bibliographic, Complete-text

Provider: Information Access Company (Foster City, CA)

Available through: DIALOG

PROMT (Predicasts Overview of Markets and Technologies) is a multi-industry database that provides broad, international coverage of companies, products, markets, and applied technologies for all industries. PROMT is comprised of abstracts and full-text records from more than 1,000 of the world's important business publications.

Market & Industry Library (MARKET)

Coverage: 1990 to present (varies across information sources)

Updates: Weekly

Data type: Complete-text

Provider: Mead Data Central

Available Through: Mead Data Central (LEXIS)

The Markets and Industry Library contains an extensive variety of publications covering advertising, marketing, market research, public relations, sales and selling, promotions, consumer attitudes and behavior, demographics, product announcements and review. The publications include over 300 trade and industry journals as well as comprehensive coverage of business and trade information from other sources.

Newsletter Database

Coverage: 1988 to present (selected titles with earlier coverage)

Updates: Daily

Data Type: Bibliographic, Complete-text

Provider: Information Access Company (Foster City, CA)

Available through: DIALOG

Newsletter Database contains full-text articles from over 500 business and trade newsletters covering nearly 50 industries, subject areas, and eco-political regions. Newsletter Database provides searchers with important information on company activities, new products and technologies, changing market conditions, and government policies, as well as expert projections, analyses, and commentaries on market events, industry issues, and business trends.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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